It is said that if we have high self-esteem, we will tend to be less jealous. This is in some measure true. It is also true that jealousy can be a cause of low self-esteem, as well as the result of it.
Given a situation in which one feels outdone by a rival, in which one feels forced to compete in what is anticipated as a lost cause, the resulting feelings of betrayal and rage, fear of loss, abandonment and humiliation can cause even high levels of self-esteem to evaporate.
- When I see you with another person and
- COMPARE MYSELF NEGATIVELY, I experience a lowered self-esteem. This leads to feelings of
- SELF-HATRED and provokes SELF-CRITICISM. And if I’m such a defective, unlovable person then I begin to experience
- FEAR OF LOSS. Why would you want to be with me? Of course, you prefer the other person. These thoughts evoke the devastating feeling of
- JEALOUSY which is
- UNACCEPTABLE. It is not OK to feel jealous. Being jealous is a weakness and demonstrates how unacceptable I am. I then
- Feel GUILTY. I shouldn’t feel jealous and I do. This shows how unlovable I am.
- I experience another hit on my self-esteem. I really am an awful person.
- ALL OF THIS HAS OCCURRED INSIDE ME. Since I don’t like feeling this way and you are the cause of it,
- I PROJECT MY VIEW of myself (as unacceptable) on you. You must think I’m not as good as the other person. This thought evokes
- ANGER at you. You have no right to judge me as less than another. I begin to defend myself by
- Trying to CONTROL you POSSESSIVELY. You have no right to choose another over me. I have a right to tell you how to behave so I won’t feel so bad. When I begin to act on these thoughts and feelings,
- You push away. When you resist my efforts to control you,
- You validate my FEARS and BELIEFS about how unacceptable I am to you. And especially when you do this in public, at a party, for instance, I feel
- HUMILIATED. Everyone knows how unacceptable and weak I am. They see you preferring another over me and they see me acting out my jealousy. I either begin the cycle OUT TOWARD YOU again by projecting my view on you or
- I withdraw and isolate. Since I am alone, I am confirmed in my low self-esteem and the cycle INSIDE ME begins again with additional evidence of what a weak, awful person I am.
How do we deal with it?
One way is to try to choose a partner you can trust and then to risk confiding: to trust him or her with your honesty, to be willing to reveal your inner fears and to finally discuss rationally how these fears can best be dealt with. It is important to take responsibility for your personal self-esteem, to internalize that you are “good enough, lovable and a pleasure” and that your partner doesn’t have to be constantly present or attentive to validate it. It takes working on your suspiciousness. It takes not expecting your partner to make up for a lifetime of feelings of deprivation. It takes understanding, compassion, respect, trust and even reassurance. It may take limiting certain behaviors that unduly trigger or upset your partner, when they are reasonable and manageable. It takes mutual understanding and concern. It takes honest talk. It takes being trustworthy. It takes attention. All of these are well worth the effort, to prevent jealousy and envy from ever playing a destructive role in your life!
We can change when we become aware of what we are doing and feeling. Whenever we become aware, we can choose an alternative behavior or self-talk.
Realize that jealous feelings may signal a need to check out many concerns in a relationship. We must have a way to let each other know about jealous feelings in a constructive, non-attacking, and pro-relationship fashion, so that these concerns can be addressed.
~ Lori Heyman Gordon